seven habits of miserable couples

Habits of Unhappy Couples: How to avoid miserable couple mistakes

Unhappy couples didn’t get that way by accident. Neither happy relationships nor miserable ones happen by mistake. Instead, both are the product of habits. Happy couples consistently act the way that happy couples do, and miserable couples consistently engage in the types of actions that miserable couples take.

What Unhappy Couples Can Do

This is great news for unhappy couples. It means the quickest way to end the frustration is to identify the unhappy couple’s habits and end them fast. Or better yet, avoid these habits as one would a rabid dog. Then, replace them with one of the 7 habits of highly happy couples

Although this may not be easy to do (as old patterns can be difficult to break), what if it really is that simple?

Are most couples unhappy? 

Most couples feel unhappy at times, but this does not mean that most couples are unhappy. Emotions often perceived as negative (such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and frustration) serve a purpose. There is no such thing as a bad emotion. Even happy couples feel unhappy for brief periods. The difference is that unhappy couples get stuck there while happy couples work through these emotions and find happiness again.

Why do unhappy couples get stuck?

In his book, Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage, William Glasser outlines seven deadly relationship habits. As you read through this list, take mental notes of any destructive habits in your relationship. Then, when you catch yourself falling into a negative pattern, replace the bad habit with a better one. This is important because the types of habits you choose will make or break your relationship.

The Seven Habits of Miserable Couples

  1. Unhappy couples criticize. Criticism is an attack on another person’s character.  According to relationship expert John Gottman, criticism is a marriage killer. It is so deadly that he refers to it as one of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
  1. Unhappy couples blame. Blaming says, “You caused the problem, and you need to fix it.” In blaming, there is no collaboration. Blaming obliterates teamwork by demanding that the other person take full responsibility.
  1. Unhappy couples complain. Complaining magnifies the problem. In fact, the more a couple complains, the bigger the problem appears. Miserable couples don’t focus on solutions. Instead, they spend the majority of their time venting.
  1. Unhappy couples nag. Nagging is a dripping faucet. It will lead your relationships to a slow, painful demise.
  1. Unhappy couples threaten. Threats create a no-win situation. If the other person changes, threats will be used again in the future. If the other person stands his ground–and the threat is put into action–more negativity is brought into the relationship. Nothing good comes from threats.
  1. Unhappy couples punish. Couples who punish build their relationship on fear. Before punishing, ask yourself, “Why would I want to hurt somebody that I love?”
  1. Unhappy couples bribe. Although bribes are more appealing than threats, they are still a form of coercion. Bribing is one more attempt to get the other person to do something that he or she is opposed to doing.

Perhaps you have noticed a common theme running through the seven habits. Miserable couples try to change their partner.

Happy Couples vs. Miserable Couples

Happy couples team-up. They work together to find win-win solutions. In a happy relationship, partners change out of love for their spouse. Compliance is not demanded. Each person knows that he or she is loved, as is, warts and all.

Miserable couples try to force change. There is little patience and no room for individual differences. William Glasser referred to this as external control psychology. Each of the seven habits of miserable couples is an external control psychology tactic. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Miserable couples can move toward a more joyful relationship by putting this Scripture into action.

unhappy couples

Now that you know the seven habits of miserable couples, you can steer clear of them. Evade them as you would a rabid dog. The bottom line is unhappy couples make miserable choices. Happy couples choose to act the way happy couples act. So choose happy habits. Avoid the mistakes unhappy couples make. And choose to be happy in your relationship. It really might be that simple!

Continue the Conversation

We would love to hear from you. Use the questions below for additional reflection and discussion. Or keep the conversation going in the comments below!

  • Have you ever fallen into one of these miserable couple traps? If so, how did you get out?
  • Do you agree that happy and unhappy couples are the product of their habits? Why or why not?
  • While reading this post, did you catch any negative habits in your relationship that you’d like to end? If so, what are they?
  • Are there any habits of unhappy couples that you would add to this list?
  • If there are negative patterns in your relationship, what happy couple’s habits will you replace them with? 

I look forward to hearing from you!

Next Steps

Jen and I are thrilled you stopped by! Kind words and coffee fuel this blog. If you enjoyed our thoughts on The 7 Habits of Unhappy Couples, help us keep this great content coming. Please tell us what miserable couple habits you would add to this list. Or use the buy us a coffee button to help fund our next project. To dive even deeper, you can also check out our books and resources for couples. Jen and I are passionate about helping couples create happy marriages. Know we honestly couldn’t do this without amazing readers—like you—cheering us on!

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Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at

4 thoughts on “Habits of Unhappy Couples: How to avoid miserable couple mistakes”

  1. Criticism was an easy one for me, early in our marriage. Our marriage got off to a rough start, and criticism was a sick way to make myself feel better. Once I’d made it a habit, it took conscious effort to stop using those neural pathways and carve new ones. One way to do that is fill your brain with positive thoughts, by reading the Gospels, or Psalms or Proverbs. The critical mind is trained to focus on the negative, and needs to be trained to recognize and appreciate the positive.

    1. Hey Jon,

      Thanks for sharing this. Meditating on Scripture is excellent advice. In fact, beginning with prayer, Scripture meditation, and the accountability of a close friend, are great places to begin the journey toward positive change, in all six of these areas. I love how you and your wife are a living example of hope, for couples who are struggling with criticism.

      You are so right about our brains needing to be retrained too. I’ve written a number of posts about how I’m working to get out of a perfectionist mindset, especially in regards to writing. This continues to be my area of growth this year. I’m noticing that I’ve got to be especially aware of those sneaky, critical, thoughts 🙂 I can attest that these patterns are not easy to break. Yet, slowly but surely, I’m learning how to be more graceful and less perfectionist.

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